DETROIT -- Automakers and suppliers must take the lead in dealing with distracted driving or risk regulations that could stymie connected-vehicle technology and in-car infotainment, the head of General Motors Co.'s OnStar subsidiary said.
The industry has had some dialogue with federal regulators about the issue, but more is needed, said OnStar President Christopher Preuss.
"If we do this wrong, we are going to have the law of unintended consequences, where government regulators are going in a direction that is solving the wrong problem," Preuss said during a panel discussing connected-car technology at the Automotive News World Congress.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has made the prevention of distracted driving a priority. LaHood's focus on the issue, and criticism of in-car systems such as Ford Motor Co.'s MyFord Touch system by Consumer Reports magazine, has the industry worried about regulations that could keep new revenue-generating and buyer-enticing technologies out of vehicles.
"This is the biggest social imperative the industry is going to deal with since CAFE, and if we don't get our collective act together, this is going to be a bad outcome for us, drivers and all involved," Preuss said.
Executives from electronics suppliers Johnson Controls Inc. and Continental AG agreed that distracted driving is an important issue and said the industry needs to evaluate how much technology is too much.
Jeffrey DeBest, general manager of Johnson Controls' automotive electronics business, said finding the right mix of technologies that compete for driver attention is one of the biggest challenges of connected-vehicle technology.
"It's challenging enough driving," DeBest said. "The cognitive load needs to be assessed and comprehended as we put more features and technology into vehicles."
Helmut Matschi, president of Continental's interiors division, said the key is developing "responsible" ways of controlling what applications and vehicle functions can be used when the vehicle is in motion.
Said Matschi: "Driving and Googling conflict, so we had better take care of how we do those things so we can take them responsibly forward."